Substance identified as soap, rest areas reopened

Published 12:12 pm Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An unusual-smelling liquid discovered in the men’s bathroom soap dispenser of Clanton’s I-65 North rest area Tueaday is just soap, according to state and local officials.

Chilton County Sheriff Kevin Davis said the Civilian Corps hazardous materials team had determined the substance was either a different kind of soap or soap that was outdated or had separated.

“The cleaning personnel said the substance in the dispenser smelled different, but it turned out to be just soap,” Davis said.

The reason for the scare is that an unknown substance was found in the I-10 welcome center in Baldwin County on Monday when personnel reported a horrible smell in the men’s bathroom, according to Alabama Department of Transportation spokesperson Rebecca Leigh White. The smell was traced to the soap dispenser where they found an unknown substance.

“From what the personnel said, the odor was very caustic,” White said.

The transportation department then closed the welcome center and ordered immediate inspections of the state’s remaining seven welcome centers and 19 rest areas.

A subsequent check resulted in another harsh-smelling substance found in the soap dispenser of the men’s restroom at the mile marker 213 rest area in Chilton County on Tuesday morning. Both Clanton rest areas and the Maplesville rest area were later closed for precautionary measures. Nothing was reported in Maplesville or at the southbound I-65 rest area.

All local rest areas have since reopened.

Yesterday morning, ALDOT asked the Alabama Bureau of Investigation to join the investigation. Other agencies responding to the scene included Clanton Police, Chilton County and state Emergency Management Agencies, U.S. Geological Services hazardous materials team and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

There were no reports of exposure to visitors.

White said another similar incident was reported on I-75 in Marion County, Fla. There are no indications at this time that the discoveries are related.

State officials, however, decided to take safety precautions to make sure travelers are safe at the rest areas.

“We’ve initiated a proactive response designed to ensure safety at all our rest area facilities, to include increased inspections throughout our facilities and grounds,” said Transportation Director Joe McInnes. “We’ve also communicated with the DOTs in neighboring states to share information.”

Davis said he would rather err on the side of caution than allow something dangerous to happen.

“In the day and time we are living, you just can’t take something like this for granted and jeopardize the safety of the public,” Davis said.